Fruit Tree Grafting: A Practical Guide for Honing This Garden Superpower

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A Practical How-To for Anyone Who Has Ever Wondered, "What is Fruit Tree Grafting?"

Most days I'm content with being an average, mild-mannered wife and mother. But then there are those days when I start itching to be a mad scientist who can clone all of my favorite things. One of my favorite things is fresh apples from my apple trees. Thanks to fruit tree grafting, I can clone my favorite apples to make more of them. You too can have this super-power (and it's much easier than you're expecting).

First of all, what is fruit tree grafting?

Fruit tree grafting is simply a way of propagating fruit by fusing a small branch of a fruit tree that you're fond of (this is called the scion) and using a host tree (a.k.a. root stock) to help grow that fruit. For example, I have a crab apple tree in my back yard. It's attractive, but the crab apples aren't very tasty or useful. So, I grafted a branch of an apple variety that I love (fuji) to the crab apple tree. Now, the tree that wasn't particularly useful is producing my favorite kind of apples.

Am I someone who can graft fruit tress?

Yes, if you're confident with a knife in your hand. Also, basic tree pruning skills are a plus. (If, like me, your tree pruning skills are rusty, check out this article.)

When should I graft my fruit tress?

Plan to graft in the spring just as buds appear, but before they blossom. For parts of the country that experience four seasons, this is usually in April or May.

Think fruit tree grafting is for you? Let's learn how to do it:

There are a variety of methods for grafting fruit trees. Some of these methods include side grafting, cleft grafting, and whip grafting. While none of these methods is particularly vexing, I believe bark grafting is the simplest method.

Supplies:

a healthy host fruit tree (can be any variety of fruit--apple, pear, nectarine, peach, etc.)
dormant scion branches
sharp grafting knife (a Swiss Army knife will work.)
hand saw and/or pruning sheers
grafting/flagging tape (This can be found at most home supply stores; I buy mine at a garden supply store.)
sealant (There are a lot of options for sealants. Some include, but are not limited to, asphalt tree seal, wood glue, and melted bees wax.)

Step 1:

Prune your host tree so that all superfluous growth is trimmed back. Ideally, you should have 2-4 strong branches on which to graft. Again, here's a handy guide to pruning.

Step 2:

Using the grafting knife, cut the end of your scion using a V cut. To do this, place your knife about 3-4 inches from the end of the branch. In one fluid motion cut down to the end of the branch making a cut that looks like one side of the letter V. (When you imagine the letter V, the end of the branch is the bottom point of the V; the place where your knife begins cutting is the top side of the V.) Repeat this process on the other side of the branch, and the scion should have a point at the bottom and resemble the letter V.

Step 3:

Using a small saw or sturdy flat knife blade cut straight through the outer bark of the tree until you hit the cambium layer. Ultimately, you want to have a small (approx. 1 inch) flap of bark under which you will place your scion.

Note: The cambium layer is a layerofdelicatetissuebetweentheinnerbarkandthewood,whichproducesnewphloemonthe outsideandnewxylemontheinsideinstems,roots,etc. Allsecondarygrowthinplants originates from the cambium layer.

Step 4:

Tuck your scion under the flap of bark on the root stock. It is important that the cambium layers of both scion and stock are touching.

Step 5:

Wrap the area where the scion is attached to the root stock with grafting tape. Wrap it completely and securely so that Mother Nature's forces will not blow it off.

Step 6:

Seal the top of the root stock as well as where the scion meets the root stock completely with sealant. You want this to be water tight, so don't be stingy with the sealant.

Step 7:

Some orchardists, like those is sun-drenched locations such as California's Central Valley, place a piece of aluminum foil or a paper lunch bag over the grafted scion. However, many experienced orchardists skip this step.

Note: Repeat Steps 1-7 at other places on the same root stock branch. One branch can support 2-3 grafted scions.

Step 8:

Wait patiently for 2-3 months. (This is the most challenging step for me.) You'll know you've successfully grafted when new growth appears from the scion.

One last question: What type of fruit tree scion can be grafted on to what type of root stock? 

The scion and the root stock should come from the same genus, but do not have to come from the same variety. In other words, a pear scion can be grafted on to an apple root stock. Want to learn more about what trees are compatible for grafting? Check out this article.

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image of apple orchard via Shutterstock

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